Repertoire – Alma Redemptoris Mater
Hello everyone! Like last semester, we are going to be posting about a few of the pieces that we will be performing this semester. Each year during the fall semester, we focus our repertoire selections around the holiday season. That’s not to say that we don’t sing an occasional secular song during the fall semester, but we do sing mainly Christmas music. Yes, we sing the traditional “Silent Nights” and “Jingle Bells’”, however, being a Renaissance group, we also like to choose a few works composed in the style of the Renaissance.
This year, one of these “Renaissance-Christmas” pieces that we will be performing is “Alma Redemptoris Mater”, a motet by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. The text of this piece is a Marian hymn that, back in the day, was recited between the first Sunday of Advent and the Feast of the Purification on February 2nd. Essentially, the text is a prayer to Mary asking her for joys and blessings similar in grandeur to those she received from the angel Gabriel when he announced to her that she will bear the son of God. Thus, the anticipation of the birth of Jesus that is referenced in the text makes it a fantastic piece to sing around Christmastime!
The music itself is quite unusual for a Renaissance composition. Commonly, in a piece composed by Palestrina, one will see long, contrapuntal/polyphonic passages where no voice part is valued more than another. In “Alma Redemptoris Mater”, Palestrina writes mainly in a homophonic/homorhythmic style where each of the voice parts sings with the same rhythms with one part containing the main melody while the others harmonize the melody. This technique is much more indicative of a Baroque composition rather than a Renaissance composition. Nonetheless, Palestrina at times reverts to his signature contrapuntal roots, especially at the end of the piece where he quotes (or perhaps sets a foundation for a quotation in) “Sicut Cervus”, another motet for four voices. (The actual years of composition are unknown, however these two motets were published much later in the same volume of a publication of Palestrina’s works.)
Please enjoy a performance of “Alma Redemptoris Mater” below. Stay tuned for more of our repertoire!